Will Wisconsin changes sweep the nation?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is inviting the Legislature over for burgers, brats and beer, but it will take more than a cookout to heal the divisions that remain after Tuesday's recall election.

Walker became the first governor to survive a recall election -- two others were thrown out of office -- after he took away collective bargaining rights from most public employees and required them to pay more for their health insurance pension benefits.

That triggered a recall petition which received 900,000 signatures, but Walker defeated opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a wider margin, 53 to 46 percent, than he did in the regular election in 2010.

Barrett and the Democratic leadership in the legislature agree that consensus much be reached to move the state forward.

Democrats point to out-of-state spending for Walker's victory, but Republicans note that many of the 2.5 million who cast votes Tuesday were union members themselves.

Walker made the move to deal with a $3.6 billion budget shortfall shortly after he entered office, and went on to repeal a law giving discrimination victims more ways to sue for damages, cut public schools and higher education budgets, and required voters to show photo identification at the polls.

More than $66 million was spent on the race by May 21, a record for Wisconsin.

Unlike the federal government, state governments have to balance their budgets, and most of the spending is for salaries.

The results of the recall are being examined by lawmakers as well as public sector union members in many states that are facing budget woes as the weak recovery continues to limp on.

Wisconsin and Iowa are among the handful of states that pollsters and pundits are predicting will decide the presidential election this fall. Surrogates for the Obama and Romney campaigns worked in Wisconsin.

On a smaller scale, Wisconsin is an illustration of the conflicts that will result if and when a president gets serious about putting Washington's fiscal house in order.

This story is far from over, and it will change the nation, one way or another.

Stay tuned.